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Phantom Thread

There is nothing "perfect" about this movie
Inspired by the life and work of nine great fashion designers -- all of whom were gay -- Anderson sends the gayness right back into the closet. Neither he nor his costume designer have any notion of how the art of fashion or the world that supports it operates, nor do they understand the relationship gay artists have to the women that inspire them. And no I'm not talking about "Will & Grace." This film s a depressing travesty. Daniel Day-Lewis began his career playing a fearless gay man in "My Beautiful Laundrette" he ends it played a closeted stick-insect.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

Eisenstein Lives!
Ordinarily I can take Peter Greenaway or leave him alone -- chiefly the latter. But he really scores this time with a story that has longed to be told.

As is known Sergei Eisenstein hoped to work in Hollywood in the early thirties just as sound came in. But thanks to aright-wing campaign (plus its own lack of imagination) Paramount Pictures was scared off from making films of with of the scripts the great Russian director had written : an adaptation of Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" and an original historical drama "Sutter's Gold." The novelist Upton Sinclair stepped in and elected to back a film Eisenstein wanted to make about Mexico. But he knew nothing about film production and less about Eisenstein's highly improvisatory working methods. Under-budgeted and best by problems the shoot was brought to a halt when Sinclair's brother-in-law, Hunter Kimbrough discovered SME was having too much fun south of the border. Moreover he got a gander at the great man's cache of frankly gay pornographic drawings. Eisenstein not only never got to edit "Que Viva Mexico" -- he never even saw the rushes. He returned to Russia where he made "Alexander Nevsky" and "Ivam the Terrible" Sinclair meanwhile had the "Que Viva Mexico" footage sliced and diced into travelogues.

This is the backdrop of what Greenaway has done which s to present Eisenstein's Mexican sojourn as a sexual awakening. He falls madly in love (and lust) with a handsome guide. Greenaway brings the full bore of his visual imagination to telling this tale with multiple images and lighting the likes of which hasn't been seen since Sternberg. Elmer Back is superb as SME and Luis Alberti is equally great as his love interest. Not to be missed.


Fascinating But Disappointing
Bennett Miller's "Capote" with Phillip Seymour Hoffman got their first, leaving Doug McGrath's "Infamous" to suffer in comparison. Hoffman is superb and deserved his Oscar. But Jones, while not as skilled a performer (his Capote is more an impersonation than a character study) has more to deal with -- particularly as regards his romance with Perry Smith (a devastating Daniel Craig) I quite like the execution scene in "Infamous" particularly for its depiction of Capote overcome with sadness and running out of the chamber -- not willing to watch Smith die. But what's most markedly different about the two films is the way "Infamous" depicts Capote's New York social set: Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland, etc. They of course figured in what was to have been his next work "Answered Prayers." But when a chapter from that proposed magnum opus about New York society, "La Cote Basque: 1965" was published in "Esquire" magazine it caused a scandal that lost Capote all his friend. "Infamous" only mentions the book's title and notes he didn't write anything more substantial after "In Cold Blood." That's because of "La Cote Basque:1965." Therefore there's a THIRD Truman Capote film to be made about his unraveling. It's quite a story. The "swans" (the glamorous wealthy women he catered to) toss him out. He descends into drink, drugs and "Studio 54." Andy Warhol, who Capote had dismissed years before as an undesirable "fan" comes to his aide -- giving him the pages of his "Inter/View" magazine to write whatever he wants. He writes a few things there, notably "Handcarved Coffins" -- another true crime murder story that's even optioned by Hollywood (never made alas) But it's all over. His breakdown on the "Stanley Siegel Show" is indelible, and would make a great climax for a biopic of Capote's collapse. Anyone up for this? It could be really something.

The Fifth Estate

Quite a good movie with a terrific lead performance
As you can see from previous reader reviews the Assanginitas are going to be out in force denouncing this dramatization of Julian Assange's rise and fall. Ignore them. Like all "based on a true story" films people ad incidents were compressed for dramatic purposes. But the story overall is quite true. Benedict Cumberbatch captures Assange's preening narcissism and raging paranoia perfectly. He's especially adroit in scenes in which Assange tells lies only to revise them when the truth surfaces. Visually rich and very exciting this is quite different from anything Bill Condon has done before. This is an Alan J. Pakula style dram brought up to date with exceptionally flashy graphics and a breathless pace matching it's leading character's seemingly unstoppable drive. Edward Snowden, who was in contact with Assange at some point, is not mentioned. But Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning certainly is. I hope Condon has plans form making a Manning film in the future, cause he's definitely the director for it.

Christopher and His Kind

Really Good
"Christopher and His Kind" was Christopher Isherwood's way of correcting what he glossed over in "The Berlin Stories" and this film version corrects the exceedingly glossy glosses of "Cabaret." The real Jean Ross (nicely played by Imogene Poots) was no Liza Minnelli. Likewise Matt Smith is no Michael York. He's simpler more direct "Herr Issyvoo," and his love affair with Heinz Douglas Booth) is recounted with great affection. It's hard for gay people today to imagine just how loose and louche things were in Berlin just before Hitler came to power. But Isherwood was there and what he recounts speaks volumes about art, politics and the beating heart of same-sex love.


James M. Cain's novel was more than a tad different
In the novel there was bisexual love triangle with the singer torn between the Mexican woman and a powerful gay man. In the movie they turned the powerful gay man into . . .Joan Fontaine. Anthony Mann was a terrific director, but this is far from his best. Not an entirely bad film but he was more at home in "film noir." And he can't quite manage to turn this into a "noir" opera. Part of the problem is of course Mario Lanza -- who can only play Mario Lanza. He was a pleasant screen presence, but "skin deep" doesn't begin to describe his absence of affect.

Clearly "Serenade" is ripe for a re-make. I hope Todd Haynes is up to tackling another Cain after his triumphant remake of "Mildred Pierce."

A Single Man

A genuinely pleasant surprise
I loved Isherwood's novel (it's a novel, not a short story as a previous poster claimed) ever since it appeared back in 1964, to scathing reviews. Gay love wasn't taken seriously back then. Stonewall was five years away. But Isherwood was always his own man. Over the years I've mentioned the book to gay filmmakers, several of whom knew it and liked it. But all were chary of adapting a stream-of-consciousness narrative to the screen. That Tom Ford (of all people) has taken it on and done so well by it is rather astonishing. Yes, being the Fashion God that he is the film looks lovely. But it isn't all "look." Ford really understands what Isherwood was driving at. And while casting an actor as great as Colin Firth is a logical production decision, knowing what to do with him requires real talent. And Ford has talent by the ton. Matthew Goode is lovely. Nicholas Hoult a real surprise -- especially if you know him only for "About a Boy." And Julianne Moore is perfect as always. So much better (and more important) than "Brokeback Mountain."

Kaette kita yopparai

First of all Godard doesn't have two d's in the middle
Second of all Oshima never worked for him.

Most important of all this film stars the great Japanese pop group The Folk Crusaders. Imagine The Beatles making an experimental film. it would look something like this.

Oshima is concerned here, as he was in "Death By Hanging" made the same year, with Japanese anti-Korean prejudice. Socio-political events too complex and multi-faceted to discuss in a forum of this kind are the basis of this film -- which end with the recreation of the most indelible image of the Vietnam war.

The result is a baroque masterpiece that foreshadows Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating."

An American Family

The Best"Realty Television" show of them all
I saw it when it was first ran and taped it when it was repeated during the first Gulf War.

Despite all the pontificating and finger-pointing the Louds come off as quite a nice family. Divorce didn't "tear them apart" at all. They're still connected to one another to this very day.

Lance was of course the breakout 'star" of the show, thanks to episode for. The critics claimed he "came out" in this episode. But Lance was never "in," and his whole family adored him. Bill's disapproval had less to do with Lance's sexuality than the fact that he was goofing off too much and should set some goals in life. Lance tried a number of them, with mixed success, but he remained a terrific guy. (I got to know him personally as we were both writing for "The Advocate" and had many mutual friends.) His memorial service (captured in the documentary sequel "ADeath in An American Family" ) was quite an occasion, bringing together all manner of people in the arts and all the Loud family to celebrate Lance's life.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Yes you're wrong "Too Much Bias"
You sound like Ronald Reagan who famously quipped "Facts are stupid things." Yes they're stupid alright -- stupid to those in power who want to keep the rest of us ignorant, terrified and obedient. Michael Moore's unwillingness to be a RepubloZombie has won him the undying hatred of the fascists who now control this country and hope to do so permanently. 9/11 is their trump card -- or so they would have you believe. They want us all running about screaming "Help, Mommy! Save me from the bad man under my bed!!!" Moor explains what really went on. A mixture of incompetence, opportunism and greed led us to this not so pretty pass.

It won't last. The truth will out. And Michael Moore CAN handle the truth.

Can you?

High Society

They CAN'T Make 'Em Like This Anymore
And that's because there's no one around so much as remotely like Bing, Frank, Grace or the peerless Cole Porter. I saw it when it came out in 1956 at Radio City Music Hall, and it was such a smash that it was the first movie I ever saw there that was so jam-packed I was forced to climb to the balcony to see it.

Once interesting sidelight. When putting the film together it was discovered that Porter had forgotten to write a song for Crosby and Sinatra. So the ever-resourceful Porter suddenly recalled a number he'd written for his show "DuBarry Was a Lady" -- "Well Did You Evah." So he did a polish on it to make it suitable for Bing and Frank. What makes it really interesting is that in "DuBarry Was a Lady" the song was done by the man who would go on to direct "High Society" -- the great and very underrated Charles Walters. In "DuBarry" he was accompanied by a young dancer named Betty Grable. MGM bought the rights to the show and scooped up several members of the cast -- Walters included. He got his start as a dance director and choreographer at Metro before moving to the director's chair in 1947 with "Good News." Meanwhile the passed over Ms. Grable caught the eye of 20th Century Fox, which made her one of the biggest stars of the 1940's.


Another Chereau Masterpiece
Joseph Conrad wrote his novella, "The Return" in tribute to Henry James, whose "The Spolis of Poynton" inspired him to write about a man who regards people as objects of ownership-- and is gobsmacked when his most prized possession, his wife, walks out on him. On the page it's a tight little chamber piece, with overtones of Ibsen and Strindberg. On the screen the great Patrice Chereau turns it into something else -- an opera in which the images sing rather than the performers. Pascale Greggory is in top form as a haute bourgeois "man who has everything" whose smugness masks a total disdain for feeling. When the superb Isabelle Huppert leaves a note to say she's leaving, the brandy decanter he drops echoes like the sword of Siegfried in Chereau's famed production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. (Fabio Vacchi's amazing Alban Berg-like score seals the deal on this aspect of the work.) The dramatic set-to that results finds our non-hero groping for words to speak to the feelings he's never experienced before -- longing, regret, and finally grief at the loss of a love he's never allowed himself to know.

As far from Merchant-Ivory as one can possibly imagine Chereau and production designer Olivier Radot (new to la famille Chereau) place the action in a museum-like mansion where a small army of servants move about at the service of this infernal couple and their friends. Scenes of their fashionable parties suggest the Verdurins in Proust with cinematographer Eric Gauthier indulging in a color palette that makes the screen seem like a Manet come to life.

Chereau is doubtless familiar with what Georges Bataille wrote of Manet: "A little superficial perhaps, but driven by inner forces that gave him no rest, Manet was possessed by a desire for something beyond his reach which he never fully understood and which left him for ever tantalized and unsatisfied, on the brink of nervous exhaustion." That's perfect description of the emotional heart of this very great film.

A Bigger Splash

Brilliant, Beautiful and Genuinely Unusual Documentary
Artist David Hockney is such a lively colorful figure that one might expect a film about his life and art to be a bubbly romp. But Jack Hazan takes quite a different route. He followed Hockney and his circle of friends around for quite a considerable amount of time -- shooting in 35mm, rather than 16mm as was popular for documentary films at this time. Moreover, rather than aim for a "cinema verite" styled "truth," Hazan deals in fantasy and melodrama. The action covers a period in which Hockney and his lover and model, Peter Schlesinger, are breaking up. Hockney is having what appears to be a somewhat difficult time finishing a large canvas for which Schlesinger was the subject, and Hazan suggests that the end of the relationship played a part in this difficulty. But he only suggests. He doesn't offer a set conclusion. What he does do is utilize film as means of entering Hockney's visual world. Many of his close friends and associates, including Ozzie Clark, Celia Birtwell, Patrick Procktor and Henry Geldzahler make appearances conversing with Hockney -- whose verbal wit is everywhere apparent. Most daring of all is scene in which Schlesinger and another young man make love.

When he finally saw the results Hockney was both surprised and slightly appalled. "Two hours of weeping music," he called it. No surprise as "A Bigger Splash" gets a lot closer to Hockney's inner and outer life than he probably imagined it would.

A very important film for art lovers, and a very important piece of gay cinema.

Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole

Anna Nicole is a Goddess!
If only Federico Fellini were still alive. He's the director who could truly do Anna Nicole Smith justice. But Fenton and Randy do a fine job anyway. An Utterly fascinating story of a larger than life (in more ways than one) personality. Clearly Marshall died a happy man.

While our heroine's troubles with her late husband's family (far trashier than the one she came from) "Dark Roots" is filled with all sorts of delightful details about two worlds few know -- the Super-Rich and the Super-Poor.

That Vicki got up and got out -- into the REALLY Big Time -- is utterly fascinating. This doesn't happened every day. And monsters like Marshall's family (who could have settled accounts with her years ago but hang onto every penny like grim death) don't happen every day either.

Duelle (une quarantaine)

An Obscure Masterpiece
This is part one of what was to be Jacques Rivette's four-part project "Scenes de la Vie Parallelle". The idea was to create four different films with a running sub-plot involving a mythical war between goddesses of the Sun and the Moon, fighting for possession of a mysterious jewel. This one was a "film noir" modelled after "The Seventh Victim" (which Rivette screened for the cast before the shooting began) with bits of "Kiss Me Deadly", "Lady From Shanghai" and "Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne" thrown in for good measure. An uncanny mood piece it takes place in a weirdly unpopulated Paris. Jean Weiner (who used to play piano at "Le Bouef sur le Toit") supplies live piano improvisations here, much in the manner of an accompanist for a silent movie.

"Noroit" the second film in this series was a pirate adventure movie inspired by "Moonfleet" utilizing Tourneur's "The Revenger's Tragedy" as a frequently recited text --much in the way that Cocteau's "The Knights of the Roundtable" is quoted here.

After these two Rivette began "Marie et Julien" with Albert Finney and Leslie Caron, but suffered a nervous breakdown three days into shooting. This brought the project to an end. This year (2003) however, he's gone back to "Marie et Julien" again with Emmanuelle Beart and Jerzy Radzilowitz. Maybe the four-part project will be compeleted after all.

Son frère

Hard to take -- but well worth taking
Breaking with the visual pyrotechnics and operatic flourishes he's been associated with in the past, this devestatingly intimate drama solidifies Patrice Chereau's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. The simple story (adapted by Chereau and Anne-Louise Trividic from Philippe Besson's novel) deals with two somewhat estranged brothers -- one gay, one straight -- who become reconciled when one of them (the straight one) contracts a rare blood disease and begins the process of dying. As the slightly smug, high-living brother brought low by death Bruno Todeschini is excellent as always. But the revelation is Eric Caravaca as the surviving brother. His fresh, unfussy performance grows in power as the situation goes from bad to worse. Catherine Ferran as the perfectly professional, but utterly unhelpful, doctor in charge is quietly frightening. Chereau regulars Sylvain Jacques and Pascale Greggory drop in for a telling turn or two, and Maurice Garrel (father of filmmaker Philippe Garrel) has a few nice scenes as an old man they meet at their beach house. But over all it's primarily a two-hander of intense intimacy. There's no music until the climax when the voice of Marianne Faithfull let's loose on the soundtrack with a song she co-wrote with Angelo Bandalamenti. And when the end credits finally roll you'll probably find yourself staggering out the door like I did. If you've ever lost someone close to you you'll feel this movie right inside your skin.

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